President Ronald Reagan received his briefings on Russia from James Billington. He could hardly have chosen a better source. When fully informed of the horrors of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin’s murderous reign of terror, the president asked Professor Billington how anyone could even bear to live in the charnel house called the USSR.
“The Babushkas,” said Billington. He pointed to the godly Russian grandmothers. They were the Soul of Russia, said America’s greatest Slavic expert.
Thus, President Reagan was prepared for his first summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. Their first summit would take place in Geneva in 1985.
Reagan had put off his staff pressures to meet with the new Soviet leader. “I know he’s different,” he said of the only Soviet ruler who had not waded through blood to rise to the top; “he’s the first Soviet chief who weighs more than his wife!”
Typically, Reagan used humor as a defense mechanism. He would meet Gorbachev on his terms, not on those of the charismatic new boss of the Kremlin.
They would have climactic meetings, including a 1987 Washington Summit that led to the most massive nuclear disarmament treaty in history. Reagan’s motto was always, Peace through Strength.
When the Cold War thawed, Reagan went to Moscow. His first radio address to the Soviet people in 1988 began with an appeal to the Babushkas. President Ronald Reagan reached out to the hearts of Russians through their mothers.
We should employ Reagan’s tactic now. The tragic fate of young Russian soldiers in Ukraine must touch our hearts—and we can speak heart to heart to these boys’ mothers. The Russians call such appeals doosh doosha—or soul to soul.
We should call for a “Mothers’ March on Moscow.” We should urge no violence, nothing radical, nothing revolutionary. But the idea just might take root among women in the vast Russian heartland.
The March could even be called for a Sunday—and refer back to the Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers held on January 22, 1905. That march was organized by Father Georgy Gapon, an Orthodox priest.
When the tsarist regime responded with violence, brutally sabering and shooting unarmed demonstrators, that day became known as “Bloody Sunday.” No Kremlin rulers today want a repeat of that terrible precedent—with the whole world watching.
The free press of the West has proved to be a precious resource in this conflict. The standing of Russia’s rulers in the world has already suffered immeasurably. We see the power of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s words. He often invoked the proverb to the Russia he loved: “One word of truth can move the world.”
Our press reports tell stories of Russian enlisted men bivouacked in Belarus awaiting orders, but who had no clue they would be invading Ukraine. They learned of Moscow’s planned aggression only by accessing Western news sources via the Internet.
Moscow ordered many of these young men to go straight through Chornobyl! This is the most radioactive soil in the world. No government that has any concern for its own people could dream of such inhumane treatment.
A Mothers’ March on Moscow could ask only that Russian soldiers be treated with respect. We already know how heartless Moscow’s rulers were in 2000 when they held in their hands the fate of 118 trapped sailors in the nuclear submarine Kursk. They died because the Kremlin was unwilling to save their lives by asking for NATO’s help.
Now we see a humanitarian emergency with far more devastating results. Overworked army surgeons are amputating these young fellows’ limbs because they have no time to treat them properly to preserve life and limb.
The unjust, ineffective Russian invasion of Ukraine has proven the “Bear” to be wounded and acting in irrational rage. But a wounded bear can be an even more dangerous bear. And we should take every step to avoid World War III with nuclear teeth and claws.
Loose talk here of ousting Putin or charging him with war crimes will work against any effort to persuade him to leave Ukraine on his own. When a US senator openly calls for the assassination of Russia’s ruler, he must be rebuked and gaveled down sharply. Such cheap shots are a threat to the rule of law that must be our watchword.
We should take careful measures to achieve a just and lasting peace with Russia, and seek an independent Ukraine. We should reassure the Russians that NATO will never be their enemy. NATO must always be the Russian people’s shield.
To help press for this peaceful result, a Mothers’ March on Moscow could be the best way to show that America does not seek to “weaken Russia,” but to make her freer and stronger. Let the Mothers of Russia help bring peace to Moscow. And let Americans be the best friends to these Mothers of Russia.